Washington DC Style: What to Wear to Teach in Washington DC

June 19th, 2009

Q: I’m a fourth grade teacher moving to Washington DC this summer. What should my new wardrobe staples be?  I’m moving to a new school and want to create a good first impression!

Teaching Wardrobe
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by Colleen Geary, fashion stylist and image consultant

A: Congratulations on starting your first teaching job!  It should be no surprise that (1) Washington DC is a conservative city style wise (though in Michelle Obama you do have a new fashion icon to take cues from), and (2) it’s a city with very distinct seasons – and it can be fairly warm even in the Fall and Spring.  Be prepared for daytime temperatures ranging from 40s in the Winter to 80s in the Summer, plus humidity.  Here’s what you need to build your wardrobe around when you move to Washington DC this Fall:

Suit: Even though you won’t be wearing a suit to teach every day, you’ll want to have one handy for any important meetings that come up.  Since you’re teaching, your suit doesn’t need to be ultra conservative.  Feel free to spice up your suit with details like three-quarter sleeves or a tulip skirt.

Blouses: Build your wardrobe around a series of well-cut blouses in a variety of colors and shapes.  Washington may be conservative, but bright colors will help keep the kids’ eyes on you.  Just make sure that the tops aren’t overly low cut.  Look for short sleeves for warm weather and long sleeves for cooler months. 

Sweaters: Simple cardigan and pullover sweaters in a variety of versatile colors will help you layer

Pants: Tailored Pants will help round out your wardrobe.  If you’re a jeans kind of woman (and denim is allowable on the job), we’d recommend a nice pair of trouser jeans.  They’re uber-comfortable and will help you look instantly pulled together.

Dresses and Skirts: On the whole, skirts are going to be less practcal than pants since you’ll be taking care of 4th graders all day.  But if you’re going to add dresses or skirts to your wardrobe, make sure they’re ones that you can move in.  No severe cuts (or overly short styles).

Outerwear: A light trench will keep you warm during mornings and evenings for warmer months.  When the weather turns chilly, however, you’ll want a full East Coast worthy winter coat.  Look for tailored cuts in versatile neutrals (or brights, if you dare) in the best fabrics you can afford.  Cashmere is going to be super warm, but if it’s out of your price range, try a wool cashmere blend.  Also, keep on the lookout for pre-season and off-season sales to snag your coat - as an investment piece, it can be on the expensive side. 

Accessories: Keep your jewelry minimal, as it can be distracting to the kids in your class.  A scarf, however, is going to be a chic choice all year round.

Handbag: A simple structured work tote that will carry papers and books home will serve you well.  Make sure that it’s one that can survive a beating - you never know what kinds of stains it’ll be exposed to in the classroom and beyond.

Shoes:  Flats or kitten heels are going to be your best bet.  You’ll be on your feet all day, and you’ll be picking up after the kids in your class.  Make sure that your shoes are comfortable enough to keep your feet happy.

Last thoughts?  Keep in mind that stores like Ann Taylor Loft and J Crew offer discounts for teachers – so do use those savings where you can.

Have a great tip about what to wear as a teacher in Washington DC? Share it with us in the comments!

Entry Filed under: Q&A, Women's

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Paige  |  June 19th, 2009 at 4:54 am

    As a DC native, just thought it might be worth mentioning that winter/summer temps can be a little more extreme than listed here … winter temps can easily head down to the single digits, and summer temps regularly shoot up to 100 or so. Dress for the weather :)

  • 2. Renee  |  June 19th, 2009 at 8:47 am

    As a teacher myself, the tips above are exactly what I would suggest. Also, it doesn’t hurt to find a loose, knee-length skirt with an attractive print that isn’t too showy or bold, especially for summer. You’ll get compliments from both your students and colleagues.

  • 3. Trisha  |  June 19th, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Thanks, Paige and Renee! Good to hear what works from a DC native - and a teacher.

  • 4. Allison  |  June 19th, 2009 at 10:57 am

    As for the tote, make sure it’s a material that’s easy to clean because kids spill things everywhere whether it’s off limits or not!

  • 5. Emily  |  June 20th, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    I live in DC, too, and these tips are very useful. I love the colors.

  • 6. Erin  |  July 5th, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I have lived in DC for 4 years, I disagree with the conservative label attached to the city. There are two parts of the city that are conservative Capital Hill and the Business District, and maybe a few places on the outer part of the city (for example, Chevy Chase) DC has 127 named neighborhoods, the majority of the people who live here are very relaxed and fun. Fashion and art are staples that define the DC social scene. What makes it so interesting and unique is that there are so many people here from so many places around the world that it is a melting pot of interesting self expression. Stuffy suits and pearls are not our thing at all. It will be obvious when you get here.

  • 7. K  |  August 26th, 2009 at 11:32 am

    okay, you’ve had your fun. Now can you give some tips on how to dress to command as much respect as a male teacher? The clown suit pictured on this page screams “fun and hip mom!” not teacher.

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